Sep 16, 2022 - Health

Now trending: "Soberversaries"

Illustration of letter balloons spelling out "SOBERVERSARY."

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

As the pandemic winds down and people try to quit the drinking habits that may have crept up on them, the "soberversary" is emerging as a new holiday-esque milestone — complete with greeting cards, cheekily-worded coffee mugs and a growing social media presence.

Why it matters: Getting sober and staying sober are significant achievements that too many people feel compelled to hide because of the ongoing stigma of alcohol addiction.

The concept of a "sober birthday" or sobriety anniversary is nearly as old as the 12-step meeting, but the popularization of a catchy neologism — soberversary — is a meaningful cultural watershed.

  • It lends dignity and respect to those in recovery, helps people open up about their struggles, and encourages sufferers to seek help.
  • "My soberversary is more important to me than my birthday," said Carly Benson, a 41-year-old recovery coach from Naples, Florida, who stopped drinking on Aug. 17, 2008, and marks the date annually with splurges like a trip to Greece.

Driving the news: Younger people accustomed to living their lives out loud are shedding the "anonymity" precept of Alcoholics Anonymous and posting proud pictures of their "soberversary" celebrations — and older people are joining in as well.

  • On Instagram, Twitter and other platforms, people hold up signs or balloons marking how many years they've been sober — or even tattoos of their quit dates — using the hashtag #soberversary.
  • Soberversary "merch" on sites like Amazon and Etsy includes solemn gifts (recovery journals and bracelets with inspirational sayings) and comical ones (sweatshirts and mugs with slogans like "sober AF").
  • "It's inspiring" to see posts from other people celebrating their 40-year soberversary and other notable numbers, said Seamus Kirst, a 32-year-old writer in Brooklyn who's been sober for 10 years.
    • "I do think it kind of normalizes sobriety and talking about addiction," Kirst tells Axios. "It makes people feel less alone when there are these public celebrations of sobriety, to show how common it is."

Celebrities are lending momentum: Supermodel Chrissy Teigen marked her first soberversary in July with a lengthy Instagram post.

  • "Not a drop of alcohol in 365 days!" she said. "I miss feeling loopy and carefree sometimes, but to be honest toward the end, it didn’t give that fun feeling anymore anyhow."
  • An episode of "Jersey Shore" involved the return of castmate Snooki to observe the soberversary of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino.

Backstory: AA has a system of chips, key tags and medallions awarded to people in honor of various sobriety milestones, a tradition it traces back to the fellowship's earliest days.

  • Clarence Snyder — who founded the third AA group, in Cleveland in 1939 —  "had his last drink on February 11, 1938, and he carried a medallion made from a silver dollar and a watch fob up until just before his death on March 22, 1984," according to a 12-step website called Big Book Sponsorship.
  • That tradition continues today, with a modern twist: Groups like the Sober Girl Society (founded in 2018) sell a variety of soberversary pins and jewelry in bubblegum pink.

And soberversaries have emerged as a cause for poignant — if not public — celebration. "These commemorative events can mark sobriety of 100 days, 300 days, a year or any time period that is relevant to you and your life," according to Sober Living America, which runs addiction recovery programs.

  • "Some people prefer to spend their soberversaries alone in quiet reflection, while others prefer to celebrate with a trip to a new destination or through a celebration with family and friends," Sober Living America observes.
  • Online women's magazine Bustle published tips on how to observe your soberversary. (Suggestions include learning to meditate and hanging with friends.)
  • Benson, the sobriety coach who offers quit-drinking courses on her site, went kiteboarding in the Dominican Republic after her first year of sobriety.
    • "My one-year soberversary was a turning point, when I was like, 'You know what? I don't want to go back. I like this life better,'" she told Axios.

The bottom line: A soberversary is a distinctly modern type of celebration, one that connotes a sort of gravid joy that can only hint at the struggles and anguish preceding it.

"This is a good counterbalance" to all the bad news about drug and alcohol abuse, Kirst said. "On the one hand, you're seeing how dangerous certain substances are and the dark side of addiction, but then you're also getting messaging about people who have overcome."

Go deeper